Crowdfunding is set to generate more income than any single charity by 2019, according to Charles Wells, chief marketing officer at the fundraising platform JustGiving.
Speaking at the Institute of Fundraising's technology conference in London this morning, Wells told delegates they needed to embrace the challenge posed by digital technology rather than fear it.
He said the trend towards the use of crowdfunding platforms such as JustGiving was driven by young people, and although many charities were struggling to engage them as donors, such platforms could provide an opportunity.
"It's not because they don't care, it's not that they don't give, it's just that the way you ask and the way they respond has been completely disrupted," he said.
"They want to give on impulse when a cause touches their heart. It is a short window above a caring threshold. They want to be able to give frictionlessly.
"They want to see the impact of their money and feel the juicy emotional reward of having changed a life."
Wells said the power of crowdfunding was that the stories it told were "specific and powerful: they don't have a lofty mission; they tell the story of a person in need".
This encouraged donors to give immediately and share with others, he said, adding that people were four times more likely to share the fact that they had made a crowdfunding donation on social media than they were a traditional donation.
"They want to share that experience and be seen to be a good person," Wells said. "They don't want to chuck a tenner a month into a company that knocks on their door or stops them in a station. And they don't open post."
About 80 per cent of crowdfunding donors on JustGiving donated from mobile phones, compared with 60 per cent of fundraising donors, he said.
He said crowdfunding should not be dismissed as not being big or mainstream, and predicted it would be worth £150m this year and double that next year.
"By 2019, crowdfunding will be bigger than any one charity," he said, noting that in the US it was already worth $3bn (£2.3bn).
Wells said JustGiving had started introducing people who had supported crowdfunding pages on its site to charities it thought they might care about. So far, he said, 8.8 per cent of people who had never given to charity before had become donors within 12 months of being directed towards a charity.
He warned that donors were not going to revert back to old patterns of behaviour.
"Once changed it rarely changes back," Wells said. "We humans adapt fast and we will never go back to a less appealing behaviour. This means all we need is for a tipping point of people to trial a new behaviour and it becomes the mainstream."
He said regulation would not always keep up with changing technology and behaviour patterns, so charities would have to go beyond the bare minimum standard required by regulators, particularly on data.
"So my challenge to you is to build the ethical principles into your project that the law will always defend," Wells said.
"Respect the rights of individuals, never forget that their data is loaned to you and is never yours, and treat them as a person, not a data point."